The Smiley Cut'

How can you take agency when your body is ridden with cancer? Where do you go to find some sense of solace and space to be you? How do you deal with the entanglement of severe illness? These are some of the questions that initiated Katerina Tsakiri’s personal and kalejdoscopic project ‘The Smiley Cut’ about the challenges of dealing with breast cancer at a young age.

“In this project my photography journey was driven by a need to create a psychological distance from the overwhelming experiences I was going through. It allowed me to assume the role of an observer. A crucial element to navigating the challenges of my cancer treatment. At the same time, the act of capturing those moments gave me agency — an active response to a situation that easily puts you in a passive position. Sharing my story became a way to offer an additional narrative, a shared experience that could potentially resonate with others undergoing similar trials, building a connection in the shared hardships and pain."

Katerina Tsakiri


The empowered patient

Project: The Smiley Cut, by Katerina Tsakiri

The Smiley Cut unfolds as a poignant visual journey, encapsulating the Swedish based Greek artist Katerina Tsakiri’s odyssey through cancer treatment. We are invited in as Tsakiri navigates the tumultuous stages of grief, transforming her body’s metamorphosis into a powerful narrative that gives her cancer ridden body and mind some agency. The Safjället forest, once a place she used to hike and run, became more than a backdrop but an essential ‘character’, a sanctuary where Tsakiri grapples with her emotions.

Katerina Tsakiri // The Smiley Cut

Photography as a tool of empowerment

Tsakiri turned to photography as a means of distancing herself from the overwhelming experience of dealing with cancer adopting the role of an observer. This empowered her to counteract the passivity of being a patient dealing with the rapid pace of medical procedures. As the project progressed, Tsakiri recognized the potential of her story to resonate with others undergoing similar experiences. By making her narrative public, she aimed to foster connections through empathy and vulnerability, offering solace to those who might feel alone in their struggles.

A kaleidoscopic experience

“I made a conscious decision to document every phase of my transformation. I began with a self-portrait, marking it as chapter one, followed by chapters like the mastectomy and the cutting of my hair. Within these chapters, I explored different periods dealing with the transformations I underwent. I gradually became more experimental, attempting to convey my emotions and everything that defined my life during that time through images.”

The structure of the narrative and different types of imagery also play a central role in The Smiley Cut. The images are organised into chapters, each representing a distinct phase of her transformation. The Polaroid became a tool for capturing raw emotions as notes. While the medium-format camera wielded more deliberate and planned results. The forest scenes, so important to this narrative and to the journey Tsakiri went through, were captured with a specific point of view that aims to create a more intimate and personal atmosphere. The variety of photographic techniques underscores the multi-faceted nature of Tsakiri’s experience.

“Each of the types of photography I used has a distinct role. The Polaroid felt like taking notes for me. When photographing the forest, the medium took on a different role. It facilitated a unique approach, enabling me to transform a public space into something intimate. I would casually tuck the Polaroids into my pocket, altering the usual identity of the place. It also contributed with a blurry and hazy effect, which, interestingly, felt more accurate in capturing how I perceived the environment. It added a different identity to the place, and imbued it a new meaning.”

Katerina Tsakiri // The Smiley Cut

Self-portraiture: reclaiming control

The concept of reclaiming control is a recurring theme in this work. Through photography, Tsakiri asserts agency over her narrative, defining how she presents herself to the world and resisting external impositions. Self-portraiture emerges as a central element in this goal, capturing the raw strength and vulnerability of her journey. In her self-portraits, the artist addresses the significance of her body in the narrative, emphasizing it as the protagonist. Having worked with self-portraiture before, Tsakiri recognizes its power to shape identity, both in self-perception and how one is perceived by others. By placing herself at the forefront, she allows her body to become a powerful voice in the visual storytelling process.

“I felt like my body played a peculiar role – it created the situation I found myself in, yet it was also suffering from it. It seemed as though my body became the central character, taking over my life and existence. It became crucial for me to provide it with space and a voice. I wanted to understand and ultimately accept this ongoing process. Though it remains an ongoing journey, granting my body a presence in the visual narrative holds significant importance to me.”

An expanded view of photography

Tsakiri also incorporates sculpture, conceptual art, and performance in her practice. These elements add a tactile dimension to the visual narrative and trigger the viewer’s engagement with the artist’s experiences. 

Katerina not only captures the essence of her struggle but harnesses the power of photography as a transformative tool. Her project becomes a nuanced exploration of resilience, vulnerability, and the intricate dance between self-identity and societal perceptions. Through the lens of her camera, she builds a visual testimony, not just to her journey through cancer treatment but to the process of reclaiming control over her narrative. The Smiley Cut is not merely a documentation of physical transformation; it is a profound meditation on the intersection of art, identity, and the healing power of self-expression.

Katerina Tsakiri // The Smiley Cut


“There is an entanglement with the body. The fact that it can affect the way you are being identified in society. Your sex, your race, and your health. It is something that affects how you will be perceived. There is also a connection with a physical place, the transformation of the meaning of a place through personal experience. I could take a public space that everybody uses, with different experiences for each person, and make it my own. Building a sanctuary, making it my friend, becoming a memory, while living as a photograph in my pocket.”

Katerina Tsakiri

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

Katerina Tsakiri was born in Athens in 1991 and she currently lives in Gothenburg. She studied Photography and Audiovisual Arts in Athens and has an MFA in Photography from the University of Gothenburg. She is a photographer and Visual artist who works with staged self-portraiture. Her work is mainly autobiographical and she explores the female identity within the social structures of Western Society. Her focus is on the (female) body and expands her practice from photography to video performances and sculptures.

Selected achievements

  • – 2023 published in Der Greif issue #16 “Common Love” guest edited by Shirin Neshat.
  • – 2023 Group Exhibition at “What is Beauty”, Photo Vogue Festival, BASE Milano 
  • – 2022 Shortlisted for “Solo Exhibition Artist” Copenhagen Photo Festival
  • – 2018 Solo Exhibition at Photometria Festival, Ioannina,Greece 
  • – 2016 Finalist of Discovery Award Under 30, Portugal